Bev Sandlin of Spring Valley stands in the middle of a perennial garden in full bloom. While the flowers may catch one's eye from this view, a closer look will have one seeing fairies and gnomes and other special guests frolicking in the foliage.
Bev Sandlin of Spring Valley stands in the middle of a perennial garden in full bloom. While the flowers may catch one's eye from this view, a closer look will have one seeing fairies and gnomes and other special guests frolicking in the foliage.
"Do you believe in fairies? If you do, clap your hands..."

~ Peter Pan

"I was trying to add a sense of whimsy to my gardens that would attract the attention of Bob's granddaughter, Andreya, so I started putting my Breyer horses under the hostas, then watching the garden centers for interesting additions, and hit on the fairies! What little girl doesn't like fairies?!" said gardener Bev Sandlin, anticipating spring so that she can awaken the fairies in her southwest Spring Valley yard to delight her husband's granddaughter.

Sandlin's yard is rather large, adjoining a creek to the east of her vintage house, which makes it an ideal place to grow gardens of perennials that are home to fairies of all kinds, bits of this and a gathering of that, all tucked in beneath the leaves and moss.

"Fairies are often associated with the Celtic traditions and just seem to fit in wooded settings," Bev noted. "I plant almost exclusively perennial flowers and flowering shrubs - most with a wildlife benefit. My personal perennial flower favorites for hardiness, flowering and reproduction are catmint because I love the purple and it flowers almost all season long."

She also mentioned favorites to be black-eyed Susans, daisies, daylilies, obedient plant, monarda, hostas, asters, bleeding hearts, and hardy hibiscus.

"For bushes, I like shrub roses, hydrangeas, wiegala, spirea and ninebarks," Sandlin added.

Her flowers and foliage came from her former garden near Winona, but her fairy garden habit has developed since she relocated to Spring Valley.

"Many of the plants I had and I took slips from them when I moved. I love to hit the old lady plant sales in the Winona area - if they have excess you know that the plants are hardy and willing to grow in Minnesota - and farmers' markets. I like the half-off sales at the end of the gardening season at the big box stores for bushes. And I like to use the element of surprise as you walk through the yard - an element of the unexpected. That is where the fairy gardens come in," she explained.

Sandlin, who is studying to become a Master Gardener volunteer, furnishes her yard for the fairies by making miniature landscapes and resting places for them.

"I like to make walkways from pebbles, fairy houses from birdhouses, bridges, chairs, tables, little plastic animals, especially horses, whatever I find that suits my fancy," she described. "I like to pick up old Barbie dolls from rummage sales and glue on little outfits and wings - a fun afternoon project with the kids."

Her fairies and their accompanying landscaping and furniture may have come to her yard from various places, but they all speak of her "whimsy."

"I picked up fairies and furniture as I found them at garden centers and rummage sales, from craft stores and Savers. I also went on the Internet and searched for fairy gardens and fairies. There is a lot on the Internet about fairy gardens!," Sandlin stated. "I even picked up a fairy garden kit at Valley Farm and Home here in Spring Valley. On my mailbox post, I have fairy windows and a door, and I had a 'flying fairy' held by fishing line by the vine trellis on the back of the mailbox. I had a fairy ring by the specimen rock that says 'Whispering Winds,' and down by the creek, I had a Barbie doll that I made into a fairy by creating wings and gluing them to her back, then made her a little swing and put that on a tree branch."

She's also embellished a child's swing in the yard with silk flowers, added flying fairies to tree branches, and placed a door and windows on the back of a tree trunk, and renovated an old birdhouse she found at Savers by painting it, blossoming it out with silk leaf petals, then adding small plastic fairies that now reside under the cottonwood tree.

The gardens' inhabitants aren't limited to fairies, however, since they're visited by squirrels and her collies, Gia and Jessica, and an occasional gnome.

"On one tree, I added a rubber 'tree face' that blends so well you have to take a second look to actually see the face on the tree," Sandlin pointed out. "Also, I found a gnome in hunting gear half-price at Target and created a gnome garden, with mirrors glued together and edged in rocks as a pond. Just an old woman having fun and entertaining the grandkids, I guess."

Sandlin added that her fairy gardens are "low maintenance once set out, unless the squirrels or the wind bother them, unlike the flower gardens that take weeding, dividing the flowers, watering, feeding and the usual."

She likes "any warm day in spring" to start setting fairies about her yard, and she does things differently each spring and moves them around throughout the season to keep the spritely discoveries fresh as daisies.

"The fairies act like a permanent bloom of color in the gardens," Sandlin added. "In shady spots where flowers don't grow, adding a colorful fairy can add just the brightness and flair that that corner needs. I love all the color and the scents that flowers bring to the yard. I love digging in the soil and watching things grow. Moving things around is fun, too!"

She calls a wander through her gardens "almost like an adult's Easter egg hunt, walking around the yard and spotting fairies."

Sandlin added, "I think other people enjoy the fairies because of the whimsy and unexpected nature of them. Even I don't always catch them all, and I put them out."

Sandlin has added toy horses and fairies to her vegetable gardens as well. "What fun, and how unexpected among the asparagus plants, or peeking out from the strawberries, or sitting on the fence line among the raspberries? What better way to get children out in the vegetable garden to taste the goodness and just play?"

She added, "Even Grandpa Bob enjoys strolling through the garden and eating raspberries plucked fresh from the bush, or snapping a sun-warmed tomato from the vine, or checking the apple trees for fruit. I may even find a little Harley motorcycle toy to put in the garden to surprise him one of these days."

Sandlin believes gardening is "a labor of hope and renewal," maintaining that "grass is for pastures" and that lawns are meant for napping on, if there's still a little patch of green left between the perennials.

It's even renewal for fossils, as this year, she plans to incorporate more preserved prehistoric creatures she's found, such as Maclurite snail fossils - "a fairly common fossil find in Fillmore County, older than the dinosaurs" - and share their story.

"I can imagine perhaps a group of gnomes, or perhaps cavemen in a fossil rock garden. That's intriguing. Perhaps cast some dinosaur footprints and have fun with that," Sandlin mused. "Who knows what the year will bring? One day at a time, and bloom where you are planted!"